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Fire Tore Through the Forest That Inspired Winnie the Pooh’s ‘Hundred Acre Wood’

Officials are confident England’s Ashdown Forest will recover from the blaze

The scene after a fire at Ashdown Forest in East Sussex (Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

Winnie the Pooh and the cohort of other loveable characters dreamed up by A.A. Milne frolic deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, part of an enchanted land based on the scenery surrounding the author’s country home in southeast England. Among the real sites that inspired the fictional setting of Milne’s iconic children’s books is the sprawling heathland known as Ashdown Forest—which, according to the BBC, suffered a large fire over the weekend.

The blaze broke out on Sunday night and impacted an area of about 50 acres in East Sussex, England. “The fire took hold quickly and was significant,” Andrew Gausden, Incident Commander for the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, said in a statement.

Firefighters were able to bring the flames under control by Monday morning. The cause of the fire is not yet known, but officials do not believe it was set deliberately. Despite recent bouts of rain, the forest’s undergrowth was “very dry,” Gausden told the BBC, which may have caused the flames to catch and spread. This past February, in fact, two wildfires broke out at Ashdown when a planned burning by volunteers spiraled out of control, fueled by unusually gusty and dry conditions.

A more peaceful scene likely greeted Milne in 1924, when he purchased the Cotchford Farm, near Ashdown and the village of Hartfield, as a country home for his family. When writing his Winnie the Pooh stories—the first collection was published in 1926—Milne drew inspiration from the childhood jaunts of his son, Christopher Robin, and from the landscape of his bucolic retreat. A nearby woodland was called the Five Hundred Acre Wood, noted Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post in 2015. But the fictional Hundred Acre Wood is intimately linked with Ashdown.

“Anyone who has read the stories knows the Forest and doesn’t need me to describe it,” Christopher Milne wrote in his memoir. “Pooh’s Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical.”

Today, visitors to can take a self-guided walk along the sites that appear in Pooh’s adventures—including the footbridge where the tubby little cubby and his friends play Poohsticks and Gills Lap (known as Galleons Lap in the stories), where Pooh and the fictional Christopher Robin “could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky.”

Though heffalumps and woozles are nowhere to be found, Ashdown’s heath and woodland ecosystems are home to many animals; the site is particularly well-known as a habitat for nightjar and Dartford warbler birds. Some of those creatures may not have fared well in the recent fire. The eggs of ground-nesting birds were likely destroyed, and “[r]eptiles like adders and lizards would not have been able to move fast enough,” Chris Sutton, an Ashdown forest ranger, tells the BBC.

But Sutton is confident that the forest will quickly recover. “All is not lost,” he says. “[W]ithin four weeks we'll have grass growing and in six months you probably won't know too much has gone on here.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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